Sad chronicle of investors left in ruins

The crisis-ridden insurance market is desperately looking for ways of n egotiating with investors. William Gleeson investigates William Gleeson and Paul Rodgers unearth some of the misery behind the figures
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The Independent Online
JANETTE HAZELL was looking forward to a quiet retirement tending her garden on the slopes of Baydon Valley on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border. That was before Lloyd's. "They're vile," she said at the weekend. "It's like fighting a faceless monster."

The collapse of the insurance market has devastated the 72-year-old former secretary's life. Over a period of 12 years she made £39,000 as a name. But that trickle of income was washed away by Lloyd's later demands. It has asked her for £500,000, far more than her £350,000 net worth.

The two-bedroom hillside house she and her late husband built together was sold three years ago. "I had a lovely view down the valley and memories of Raymond," she said. Now she lives in a smaller, semi-detached house in Baydon village. She blames the deterioration in her health, including breast cancer, on the stress caused by her fight with Lloyd's.

"The letters from the hardship committee were the nastiest I've ever had. I'd have to wait for half an hour in the morning before picking up the post because I was shaking so much."

Despite that, Mrs Hazell refuses to surrender. She is a member of three action groups of Lloyd's names, one of which has already won a judgment against the agents for the Gooda Walker syndicate. Of her original nest egg, only £130,000 remains.

"If I live to be 90, it won't be enough," she said. Childless, she has no one to rely on but the state - and the courts.

Clive Francis, a retired squadron leader in the RAF, is one of the Lloyd's "can't payers". He has handed over every penny he had.

Mr Francis used to live in a substantial house in Notting Hill, west London. He now lives in a small house in Exeter that he calls "Hardship House", after the Lloyd's hardship committee, set up under the auspices of Lady Archer, wife of the Tory politician Lord Archer. The committee gave him back £100,000 to buy the house.

Mr Francis has had losses to date of £3.45m. He has paid around £300,000, so still owes £3.15m.

He anticipates that his share of future losses could add another £1m to his burden. However, his deal with the hardship committee means that the Lloyd's Central Fund will end up bearing £4.15m of the losses.

Mr Francis says he has no more to give, but adds: "If people say they are not going to pay they have my sympathy. Hardship is not compassion. Doing deals with names gives Lloyd's strength as it preserves the myth of Lloyd's. If they bankrupted us, the myth would be destroyed and faith in the Lloyd's policy would be lost."

Mr Francis is one of 500 names whose Lloyd's affairs were managed by the Limestreet agency and who have total debts to the market of £750m.

Christopher Stockwell, who heads the Lloyd's Names Associations Working Party, is bankrupt. He says his unpaid debts to Lloyd's are about £2m. He has paid £1m.

The home he inhabits in Oxfordshire is now in the name of his children, and he has ensured that his children rather than himself will inherit from his own parents.

"Names are the victims of misrepresentation. They want their contracts with Lloyd's voided ab initio," he said.

Mr Stockwell has been a key figure in the names campaign.

"Lloyd's try to rubbish me with personal abuse," he said. "I try to stick to the facts.

"The press office at Lloyd's has done a good job in rebutting stories and in keeping journalists in line."

A rare exception to the tendency for angry names to sue is a retired Ministry of Defence administrator from Trowbridge.

The man, who does not want to be identified because he has not told his children of his misfortune, has lost a cottage in Spain along with his savings and has been forced to sign a charge on his house.

After he and his wife die, the property will belong to Lloyd's. "We spent 40-odd years building up what little capital we had," he said. "But I went into it with my eyes open."

He has refused to join any action groups, figuring that it would be throwing good money after bad.

"I can't see anybody getting anything out of it for years. All you're doing is assisting a few lawyers to collect fat fees," he explained.